Ireland’s Brexit concerns to be flagged in EU document

Enda Kenny to step up lobbying as bloc prepares for negotiations with the UK

European Council President Donald Tusk accepts a letter from the British ambassador to the EU that triggers a two-year countdown to Brexit under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. Video: Reuters

 

Ireland’s unique Brexit concerns will be flagged in the EU’s draft blueprint for negotiations with Britain, to be circulated on Friday to member states.

After forceful lobbying by Irish officials in Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk’s document is expected to reference Brexit challenges for Ireland – which include cross-Border trade and the peace process.

The draft document will be sent to EU capitals ahead of debate and a vote at a special EU leaders’ summit on April 29th.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has made two visits to Brussels in recent weeks, telling Mr Tusk and other senior officials that the 1998 Belfast Agreement must not be “damaged in any way”.

The Government is anxious that any final Brexit agreement carries over language in the 1998 agreement guaranteeing Northern Ireland’s automatic right to EU membership in the case of a united Ireland.

After talks with Mr Kenny last month, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he agreed that “Irish challenges . . . are European challenges”.

Mr Juncker and European Parliament president Antonio Tajani have backed the Irish case to safeguard the Belfast Agreement and the wishes of Dublin and London to avoid a hard Border.

National interests

While the commission will lead Brexit talks with London, the council of member states, of which Mr Tusk is president, has to agree the commission’s negotiating mandate.

Key EU leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel, while sympathetic to Ireland’s concerns, have to date been wary of the mandate highlighting specific national interests of any member states.

With that in mind, Mr Kenny will be stepping up his lobbying efforts, including visits to key European leaders ahead of the April 29th meeting.

Government sources familiar with discussions with Mr Tusk’s office say they expect the guidelines will be “quite short and terse”, and will concentrate on broad principles and objectives rather than detailed outcomes.

However, they expect that the references to Ireland, the northern peace process and the Border will chime with the positive approach taken by Michel Barnier, the commission’s lead negotiator, and with the language used by British prime minister Theresa May this week.

The draft proposals to be outlined by Mr Tusk are expected to include other crucial details, such as the sequencing of talks, in particular whether separation talks must be concluded before negotiators can move on to discuss Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

London has been lobbying hard for parallel talks, but Berlin and other capitals oppose any discussion of a future relationship with Britain until its exit deal is agreed.